Studio Diaries #4

I am trying to realize the body of work I want to create to become the artist I want to be. instead, I’m finding myself watching Larry David.

By julie kim


It’s another cold winter back in the most beloved suburbia of central New Jersey. I came home with an un-smotherable excitement to paint new pieces that I had been brainstorming from the creative ambition that kicked in at the end of the semester. I was so fired up from my recent undergrad art show and celebrating the eventful month that December was that I made at least seven different sketches for new paintings. But all of that explosive creative energy took a nosedive into the sand as soon as my body hit my warm bed and I had the 1000+ videos in my Youtube Watch Later playlist and my turntable of TV shows at my fingertips.

I am trying my best to realize the body of work I want to create to become the artist I want to be. But instead, I’m finding myself watching Larry David, SVU, and “WHAT ARE PEOPLE WEARING IN PARIS” into the early hours of the morning. All while triple-fisting Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves, The Light of the Stars––a book about potential alien worlds in the universe—and Olivia Laing’s The Trip of Echo Spring, which I have barely started. I’ve also developed a new fixation on learning the bass while watching Khruangbin performances (we’ll see how long this lasts).

26 days of winter break is such an illusion. It starts with the untouchable, top-of-the-world attitude propelled by an ambitious agenda. Then the days start slowing down and speeding up at the same time, and January 1st marks the reality check. And somehow, I’ve spent a third of the break doing none of the things on my list.

If we rewind for a moment, there have been days where I have inchwormed my way off of bed and caught the daylight in time to photograph the print series I finished in my printmaking class.

I also started three paintings and stretched a canvas.

My studio takes form in my parents’ basement, which, to be fair, doesn’t house much else than storage items and laundry. There is an industrial sink perfect for washing my brushes (that I should be washing more often than two times a week), an easel, and a side table set up. Home has become my private and free creative space, and being home has started to mean catching up on making art. Which is why, whenever I am home, I simultaneously am gifted with all the painting time in the world but also astronomical pressure to actually paint.

If there is one thing from this past semester that I want to cherish and take into the new year, it’s that I’ve started a working relationship between language and visual art and what it means for one to inform the other in my practice. I know that one way to keep expanding this relationship in my mental reservoir is to consume more writing, but on the other hand, I have been doing some of my own writing. In the past month, I have written three poems I am proud of and keep revisiting. What I’ve noticed has fed the life behind each of them is an overwhelming bag of feelings I have for each of the subject matters. I am working off of life, love, and even a sense of desperation to connect and to mold my emotions into something I can see. I took note that this engine is the exact same one that is behind my most fulfilling paintings.

After devoting an extensive amount of time to researching Toyin Ojih Odutola for class, I have really admired the way that she pairs fictional worldbuilding and writing with her artwork. I want to re-enter the zone of imagined scenes of imagined people that I have gravitated towards from the start of my painting journey, and Toyin has brought me back to that place. This month, I am also looking at Naudline Cluvie Pierre, Emilio Villalba, and Maja Ruznic. It’s been so frustrating trying to collate inspiration from different artists with vastly different styles because I want to try them all.


The Youtube genre flooding my feed the most at the moment is pick-a-card tarot readings. So much so that my friend Kate surprised me with my very own deck as a gift. The hyper-vigilant consumption of and hunger for words manifests here, yet again, as I read and rediscover Major Arcana symbolism in different readings along with the significant convergence between images, languages, meaning, and intuition in Tarot. The drama of the Tower card––all of one’s perceived reality crashing and burning––and the uncanny lack thereof in the Hanged Man card––a figure musingly hanging upside down by one ankle––has attracted me most, and I decided to birth paintings out of both, in tandem with Spotify playlists I named after each card, and even a poem to accompany The Tower.

1. In The Tower, I painted an image of myself from a photo in my camera roll from Halloween 2019. I stare off into the distance inside the Le Bain bathroom, with a hand under my chin, as if I am ruminating on something, but blankly. I had a vision of the tower from the card burning down behind me, while I zone out in deep thought like in the photo. Here are the beginning stages of the painting:

I am still contemplating on the color palette, which has proven to be difficult for me this winter. There have been fewer intuitive decisions that feel right in the moment and remain on the canvas, and instead, overwhelming indecision and switch-ups whilst trying to emulate seemingly unachievable ambiences and atmospheres. I am trying a border on this piece, which is unlike me, but there is a first time for everything.

2. The Hanged Man only exists in sketch form for now, but I am envisioning a scene that begins with a person’s feet at the top of the canvas, planted on a surface more elevated than the one of the viewer and the character in eye-level with the viewer. They stand on the top of a staircase, which continues down to the bottom of the canvas. The main subject will be walking (or standing still) with their back turned to the mysterious feet owner. It is a moment of pause. Of being in limbo, like the hanged man card; is the subject walking away, contemplating on turning around, or waiting for the mystery person to follow them down the steps? I also want to express separation and departure in a relationship. 

Realistic fiction Portraiture

3. Everything gold should stay

is about falling in love, in the simplest terms. It contests Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” (I even rewatched the middle school touchstone novel-turned-film The Outsiders as field study.) I imagine myself hysterically arguing an argument I know is futile. Begging, actually, to let the good things stay, whilst knowing that they cannot and will not––the beauty of the golden moment is that it is fleeting. The crux of this piece is to be in the eyes of my subject, for whom I used myself as a reference. The eyes are falling in love, deeply saturated with the moment, fearful of letting it go, and refusing to let it slip away. I hope that they stretch the moment out thin, pleading for its immortality and longevity in a world where it won’t ever lose its sparkle.


When I imagined this scene, I wanted so badly to gracefully drown in this feeling, and for the canvas I painted it on to seep and be soaked with it. Is it real or is it fake? How long will it last? Who is the person on the other side of the table? Does it even matter, when this exact moment is the most important thing on the brain, at least for now?

Although my face takes center stage, I can be replaced by anybody else, as in every other representational painting I make. The subject is the feeling, and not the face. Behind me is a lively evening at the bar, appropriately filled, but not packed. I am engulfed by the environment, the people, the feeling of being alive. The feeling of being surrounded by the world, yet simultaneously being the only being in the room, is something I have loosely circulated my works around. I only know what I am, and the body I see the world through; it is a one dimensional perspective out of such a limitless universe.

This is the first canvas I have stretched in a while, and I am enjoying the texture of the surface, which I hope to be able to recreate with my next improvised gesso-to-water ratio.

4. I plan to stretch another canvas, this time an ambitious 60 x 48, for my portrait of Tyrese and Thomas that I have been brainstorming since the fall. I’m busy coming up with the perfect title that will express the endearing friendship, camaraderie, and college life I want this piece to focus on.

At first, I planned to keep the well-groomed surroundings already in the reference photo––the staircase, the perfect green Columbia grass, and a snippet of the blue sky––an easy setup in contrast to the alternative I usually end up having to resort to: reimagining a better background by collaging together different reference photos from the internet. But considering the small revelation I had about my potential “theme” of existing amongst bodi    es, I’ve had a new vision: ghostly figures surrounding the two in the spotlight, much like the figures in Cluvie’s or Maja Ruznic’s paintings.

What does this all mean? I don’t know. The interchangeability of whose bodies are in their shoes? The universality of friendship, bond, love, companionship? The history of all the friendships manifested on that staircase? It could also be a more stylistic approach than a conceptual one. In theory, all of the above can still be conveyed by just Tyrese and Thomas sitting alone, in their own one-of-a-kind world.

5. Micaela portrait

Here, I am giving my friend Micaela her first solo canvas feature. I have altered her outfit from a real photo I have of her, and placed her in the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, which I visited last spring.


I hope to return to my intuitive color choices. This painting already looks halfway done because of the coverage I’ve given every part of the surface. All there is left to do now is to add more color layers and details to flesh out my subject. I sense some pleasantly surprising ease from this work in progress, and I want my natural instincts to kick in for the home stretch, whether that means my Ultramarine outlining, or freely painting the flesh without thinking about any inspiration color palettes.

A fair amount of composition contemplation existed here as well––should there be a crowd in the desert? Or should I leave the backdrop as is? There is a certain power in her solo presence, in the stance, and the long dress paired with Jordans. However youthful and naive that power might be, there’s also wisdom and clairvoyance I see in her that I want to communicate. But, I decided I could push myself and add in those ghostly bodies I had been imagining. They’re subtle for now, but I trust that I can successfully build them up with stronger marks and colors while keeping Micaela’s spotlight.

Reflection and the future

I am still deliberating on the contours of what my body of work should look like, like an outsider, but I want to soon step inside of the zone––whatever it may come to be––to paint freely. What a paradox. My goals, though, become more crystal clear through every second I tire out from meandering in circles about my visual voice.

I’m stuck in lapses of back and forths––between being ashamed by my portfolio and the lack of pieces, and being inspired by my past works and wanting to go back to the place I was in, in those moments. But not in a recessive way, more so in a way of honoring my one-of-a-kind instincts that makes painting feel like ecstasy, and how a zoned-in, driven process ends up creating the piece as what it is (not the other way around of looking for a specific aesthetic, trying to achieve it, and feeling dissatisfied).

Above all else, I want to value my intuition. My most fulfilling moments of painting have come from pure intuition and that honest “spark” that is based on emotions and real life experiences. That is when I can clearly see a composition or the colors that “belong,” in my head.

My love (for the emotions I feel and the people and places I paint) is the source for the energy I have to pour into the paintings. Everything comes together if I have this one thing, and I need to trust it.